Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 12

“It’s an expensive landfall, I suppose,” Adele said when she realized she ought to say something to show that she was listening.

“We could have managed something while he was alive,” Miriam said, meeting Adele’s eyes. “After he died, things became — well, you know how things became. But until then we could have gone. I always suspected that he was afraid of ruining his memories of Jardin by facing the reality. The reality–”

Her voice became forceful, almost harsh, and the muscles in her cheeks drew tighter.

“– was that Timothy wouldn’t have been twenty-two with a career ahead of him if he had gone back to Jardin. But he always kept a hologram of the port on our wall. I’ve kept it in the living room after his death.”

Adele had the data unit out anyway. She picked up the wands and brought an image live in the room between them, using the larger display of her base unit. They were looking out to sea from a moderate vantage. A city — probably Cuvier, the capital — of red roofs and white walls was scattered up the slope toward them from the shore below. The broad natural roadstead had been improved with stone moles which narrowed the entrance considerably.

The harbor accommodated forty-odd starships as well as a number of good-sized surface vessels. One of the starships was noticeably plainer and larger than most of the others.

Daniel would be able to identify it by eye, Adele thought, whereas she had spent her time learning other skills than memorizing ship profiles. Her wands isolated the ship, then ran it through a sorting protocol. She remembered that Miriam had referred to ‘a replenishment ship,’ so that saved a fraction of a second — Adele smiled mentally — from the search.

“A Leaf Class vessel, probably the Orangeleaf,” Adele said aloud. That was bragging, but she was proud of her skills.

“Yes,” Miriam said. “Your ladyship? How did you do that? How did you bring the picture on my wall to here?”

For a moment the tension in the older woman’s voice surprised Adele. She said, “The base image is resident on your apartment’s control system. I simply — oh.”

It hadn’t occurred to Adele that there might be reason to conceal what she had done. She wouldn’t have concealed it anyway, of course, but she might have explained in a more —

No, she wouldn’t have tried to sound more apologetic either. She was who she was.

“Mistress Dorst,” Adele said. “Your daughter is important to Captain Leary, and he — Daniel — is important to me. And to the RCN, I suppose. As a matter of course I set up links with Miranda’s residence in case someone attempted to put pressure on Daniel by threatening his fiancée.”

She coughed. “Now that Miranda has moved out, I can remove the links,” she said. “I should say that Daniel had nothing — knew nothing — about my precautions. I didn’t bother to waste words on something in which I trusted my own judgment.”

“Yes, of course you trust your judgment,” Miriam said as she relaxed. “As I do, Adele. It startled me, but it shouldn’t have.”

She gestured to the hologram. The projection was omnidirectional, clear to her as well as to Adele. She went on, “Yes, that’s the Orangeleaf. It was Timothy’s first cruise. We were married the day after he graduated from the Academy.”

Miriam was smiling, but her eyes weren’t focused on Adele or even on the image of Jardin. “He was so full of dreams,” she said. “We both were. And we had two wonderful children. Promotion wasn’t quick, even in wartime. Timothy wasn’t a lucky officer like…”

“Like Daniel,” Adele said to close the embarrassed silence. “He’s been very fortunate.”

That was true, of course, but it was also true that Daniel made a great deal of his own luck. Very few junior lieutenants would have turned a disaster like the Kostroma Revolt into a triumph and a springboard to greater triumphs.

Miriam nodded apologetically to Adele. “And that’s very fortunate for Miranda,” the older woman said. “For me as well, of course. But I recognize that my daughter is always going to be…well, Daniel Leary is a very dominant person.”

“I’ve found that to be the case with most RCN officers,” Adele said. “Haven’t you? The successful ones in particular.”

She shrugged. “If you mean that Daniel will continue to make decisions for himself,” she said, “yes, I think and hope that will be true. He’ll often ask advice, but I’ve never known him to take orders except from someone who has the right under RCN regulations to give him those orders.”

And even then we’ve been known to cut corners, Adele recalled. She didn’t suppress her smile as she normally would have, since she thought it would have a good effect on the tone of the discussion.

“Yes, of course that’s right,” Miriam said, stiffly again; perhaps the smile hadn’t been a good idea. “Life isn’t fair, after all.”

“I don’t know how to define ‘fair,'” Adele said, feeling sudden anger at the situation, at life. “I’ve killed many people, I don’t know how many. And some of them were doubtless as innocent as my little sister Agatha.”

For a moment she saw again the crowd blocking their way as they broke out of the cells beneath the Elector’s Palace in Kostroma City. They were civilians who happened to be in the way of Adele Mundy and her new friends, so she shot as many of them as she could to panic the rest. There was no time to do clear the way in any other fashion.

“At the time I did it, at all those times…” Adele said, hearing the harshness in her voice. “I thought it was the best available option. Given the same situations, I would again shoot men, women and children. I’m sure there were children in the crowd in Kostroma, and even if I didn’t shoot them some must have been trampled in the panic that I caused. So that we could escape. It wasn’t a bit fair, it was necessary.”

She was on her feet, though she didn’t remember standing; Miriam had risen also. Adele hoped she hadn’t raised her voice, but the courtesy Esme Rolfe Mundy had instilled in her children should have prevented that.

Miriam stepped forward and hugged her. Adele tried to step back by reflex, but the desk caught her at the upper thighs.

“Lady Mundy, Adele,” Miriam said. She was apparently crying, though Adele couldn’t be sure. “Thank you. My little girl couldn’t have a better protector in the life she’s chosen. Thank you for being her friend.”

Miriam moved away, snuffled, and wiped her nose and cheeks with a handkerchief. “I’d better go now. Thank you so much.”

Miriam closed the door quietly behind her. A moment later Tovera looked in but didn’t speak.

I didn’t say I was Miranda’s friend, Adele thought. But I suppose I am, everyone aboard the Sissie is.

She looked at Tovera and said, “I believe Miranda is fortunate. In her friends.”